Canal knowledge

Peter Campbell of Leslie & Benn Contracting Ltd. stands at the edge of the Canso Canal south lock gates while he explained the task of making repairs at the bottom of the 50-foot deep channel Thursday. 


 (Steve Wadden – Cape Breton Post)

Published on December 30th, 2010

Published on December 30th, 2010

Greg McNeil 

 Post gets to bottom of Canso Canal upgrades

AULDS COVE — Seas have been parted, allowing a rare glimpse of the bottom of one of the most important canals on the eastern seaboard.

Topics :

Cape Breton Post , Canadian Coast Guard , Port Hawkesbury , Chedabucto Bay , New Brunswick

The Canso Canal is the subject of a $4.8-million upgrade to tracks used to open and close its 200-tonne north and south gates.

Damming a portion of the canal and pumping every ounce of sea water from it over two days is the only way to get that job done.

“There are not many people that go down inside this canal,” said Peter Campbell, site supervisor for Leslie & Benn, the Port Hawkesbury company contracted to do the work.

“A big part of the job is the water control and to be able to move that water and get it out of here so that we can do our job.”

The canal gates run on a steel track on the floor of the canal. Those tracks are worn out and must be replaced.

The dams hold millions of gallons of water at bay, allowing workers to jackhammer four feet into the floor. They’ll then drill another 10 feet directly into bedrock to install anchors to hold a new track.

“The new track is designed to sit on top of a steel beam that can be unbolted and that track can be discarded 25 years down the road and a new track installed on top of what we are putting in.”

The Cape Breton Post was invited into the bottom of the canal, accessible only by 50 feet of steep steel stairs.

At the bottom of the descent was a work crew surrounded by walls of earth and grass on two sides of the canal and steel dams to contain the water normally flowing through it.

While jackhammers smashed the concrete to make room for the new track, a surprisingly small amount of water mixed in with some dead sea birds, fish, mussels and a black silt was found on the sea bottom.

“There might be the odd rubber fender off a boat and a couple of fish,” Campbell said when asked about any surprises found in the drained canal.

More than 2,000 vessels carrying over one million tonnes of cargo annually pass through the Canadian Coast Guard-operated canal that links Chedabucto Bay to the Northumberland Strait.

A fishing fleet coming out of New Brunswick and local gravel, gypsum and salt boats are among its many users.

“The public need to realize this is a tremendously important link for the shipping industry,” said Ardon Boutilier, the coast guard officer in charge of the canal.

“Anything that runs on the eastern seaboard — even the Americans when they come up — use it because it is just that much quicker.”

It’s been 25 years since the last track was installed and Boutilier said the thousands of ships going through each year have caused a noticeable strain.

The project, which began Dec. 5, is expected to conclude April 4, in time to open the canal to ship traffic April 15.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by hubert j vienneau on January 22, 2011 at 11:15

    I asked the fisheries minister why the gates were not left open to encourage natural fish migration and was told that the gate motors were not strong enough to close against the tide.It is like leaving the lights on when nobody is home,i told him. What good is this 4.8 million (UPGRADE) going to do.I think the 4.8 mil should have been spent on a replacement bridge to eliminate the canal and turn bridge.
    The infrastructure is already overloaded,in this area .During the summer there were at least 1 accident a week caused by the backed up traffic because off the turn bridge.Look further down the road and do it big and properly ,so we won`t have to waste the money.A BRIDGE,and to be rid of the mixed up rotary, is what everybody wants and it will be needed if the four lane ever gets here.


    • Hubert – These are excellent suggestions and very worthy of consideration. In next federal election I suggest you vote Conservative and approach your MP before and after the election concerning these problems.


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